• Aaron Styles

Three Dimensions of Transformation


Ever attempt to sit on a one-legged chair? It is possible, but you can’t relax very much! What happens when you stand up? The chair falls over (unless you prop it up against something). Actually, it really isn’t a chair until you add at least a couple more legs.


I’ve seen the same thing happen with attempts at transformational change, whether Lean Manufacturing, a new ERP system, implementing Statistical Process Control (SPC), adopting a Quality Management system, or any number of other significant changes an organization might undertake to improve. We human beings (and men are especially notorious for this) tend to focus on the Technical (physical, mechanical) aspects of change. After all, that is what one can see, touch and readily manipulate. It is the most tangible, visible, easy-to-understand, and straight-forward aspect of transformational change.


Three dimensions of transformational change

But there are (at least) three dimensions of sustainable transformational change. The first, as mentioned above is the Technical Dimension. It encompasses the physical changes that must be made. If you are implementing Lean Manufacturing, it includes methodologies such as rearranging your processes to flow, organizing with 5S, signaling abnormalities with Andon, and controlling material flow with pull and Kanban. If we implement SPC in a manufacturing process, it involves the establishment of monitoring charts at possibly many points in the process, potentially on many key characteristics. If we implement a new ERP system, it may involve a new server, additional computers, new scanners with additional transactional functionality, and different transactions to execute our business processes. The Technical dimension tends to get the lion’s share of the focus during a transformation effort.

The Organizational dimension can make or break any transformational initiative because the new technical arrangement almost always calls for a different type of human support structure.

The second dimension is a bit less visible and less straight-forward to execute. It is the Organizational Dimension. Lean (in manufacturing or elsewhere) will not work with a traditional Organizational structure. There will simply not be sufficient resources to respond to the problems that a leaner process will naturally expose. So, the Organizational structure must experience redesign. The same can be true when SPC is implemented (who will respond to out-of-control conditions?). When implementing an ERP system, is your organization set up to handle the transactional demand that you are designing into the system? The Organizational dimension can make or break any transformational initiative because the new technical arrangement almost always calls for a different type of human support structure.

...it is the most obvious, the most important, and requires the most effort to change. It is the Cultural dimension.

The last dimension may seem the most nebulous, but in fact it is the most obvious, the most important, and requires the most effort to change. It is the Cultural Dimension. If you perceive Culture as something ethereal, try on this definition: Culture is defined by the behavior of the people in your organization. Pretty simple, huh? It might not match the Mission & Vision you have posted in the main entrance foyer (if so, that would be an important problem to address), but the behavior of your people nevertheless defines your Culture. Who owns the Culture? Leadership! In the aggregate, people behave exactly the way their leaders expect them to behave. Thus, the leadership of any organization owns the Culture, because leadership thinking shapes leadership expectations, leadership expectations drive employee behavior, and employee behavior defines Culture.


Expectations, however, are not necessarily communicated the way we might think. Leaders must understand that the most powerful way they communicate their expectations isn’t by what they write (in policies, procedures, posters, and newsletters) or what they say (in speeches, meetings, or even one-on-one conversation). No, the most powerful way they communicate their expectations is by what they check.


Here’s an example. I have seen several companies who attempt to establish a Safety-First culture. They send everyone to training, require monthly training refreshers, start every meeting with a safety tip, have slogans on posters all over their facility, require a multitude of audits, measure all kinds of safety-related KPIs, and complete numerous risk-reduction actions. However, what their management checks on all the time is how much product is shipped, while safety is checked rarely, if ever. Additionally, leaders do nothing as forklift drivers pass by not wearing seatbelts, or employees work without proper PPE.


As a result, the people know that all that “safety stuff” is just window-dressing, but what is important is shipping product. Sometimes, people will even tell you privately that getting someone injured will get you yelled at but missing a shipment will get you fired. People know what is truly important. It is often the case that all the efforts listed above lead to minimal results. Compliant behavior may even be achieved, but hearts and minds are not won over. An increase in hype and exhortation will have limited sustainable effect. Appeals to reason and logic will also have minimal lasting effect.


A natural question would be, "How much checking must a leader do to get the message across that a particular subject matter is important?" There is no universal answer, but to demonstrate the thinking, I'll give an example: For something that is mission-critical, executed by an employee working in your value-added flow, their direct supervisor should check multiple times each day, the next management level should check at least daily, the next management level should check at least weekly and any executive visitors should be brought to check every time they visit. Can you imagine that something checked to that degree would be considered important by the employee? Further, when the check is executed, a problem is found, and a countermeasure is identified, if that leadership team does everything possible to get the problem addressed as quickly as possible without blaming the employee, would that not make a further favorable impression?


Culture cannot be changed by being superficial. It requires deep, personal changes to cognitive processes of everyone in the organization, starting with executive management. Some changes (Lean, as an example) require value changes, which can be an emotional issue for some. Leadership teams should assess what kind of cognitive and value changes are necessary to execute the desired transformational change, then decide whether they are willing to go there. This begins with an honest assessment of current Culture, followed by gaining a deep understanding of the Culture that will be needed for a successful transformation. If a company is not prepared to execute the changes in the Cultural dimension, it is better to continue with current practices. The exception, of course, is the rare case where a company already has the necessary Culture to support the needed transformational change.

Jesus said, " ...no one pours new wine into old wineskins... No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins." This isn’t a religious statement; it is a cultural development statement. Old thinking cannot be carried forward into a transformed enterprise.

Jesus said, " ...no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins." This isn’t a religious statement; it is a cultural development statement. Old thinking cannot be carried forward into a transformed enterprise. An organization that does not value process orientation, master data accuracy, and transactional accuracy will fail at ERP implementation. An organization that does not like exposing and responding to their problems will fail at SPC. Leaders who refuse to engage with their employees to coach and develop them cannot lead an organization to be sustain-ably Lean.


Likewise, it will become clear during the transformation that some individuals and leaders who were previously considered star performers, either can’t or won’t “get it” in the new Culture. It is necessary to exit those people from the organization as soon as they are identified because they will become a roadblock to the transformation and a cancer going forward. Companies lacking the courage to do this should think twice about embarking upon a significant transformation effort.


Cultural change may involve the adoption of any number of new Values and Principles that call for the need for adjustment to management practices, some examples of which I have outlined above. It bears repeating: it requires the most effort and it takes the longest time to accomplish, but it is the most important dimension for sustaining the transformation with the desired results.


Have you been attempting One- or even Two-Dimensional transformations that have yielded disappointing results? Are you ready to add the other Dimension(s) and see your efforts yield truly transformational results? Unsure where to start? Contact us at Pathfinder for a no-cost, no-obligation introduction meeting. We can help you add the Dimensions to your transformation that will help you achieve and sustain the results you seek.

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